Israelis in Cairo: “We envy the Egyptian people”

By Hagar Sheizaf and Bar Rose

Two Israelis on holiday in Egypt were caught in the Cairo awakening. This is their report.

‪The Cairo pro-democratic demonstrations started on Wednesday at about 1:00pm. We were on our way to the Egyptian museum, and just happened to curiously stop by what later became one of the largest demonstrations ever held in Egypt; at that moment, it was quite a small gathering of people shouting anti-Mubarak slogans and about the same  amount of policemen gathering around them.

At first, when we took our camera out, a man that was not taking part in the demonstration addressed us in a formal manner, and requested, as if it were his civil duty, that we not take any pictures. As the demonstration got bigger and the police became more violent, people no longer felt the need to hide the unpleasant sides of their country from us, tourists. We were cynically greeted several times – “Welcome to Egypt,” “This is the real Egypt” and were asked to take as many photos as possible and report to the people in our country. And so we did.‬

We started marching from the court to El-Tahrir Square, and on the way we met three English-speaking medical students who translated the signs for us, helped us understand the background of the demonstrations and held our hand when it was time to run away from the police batons, water cannons and tear gas.

When we suggested to an Egyptian friend affected by teargas that he buy onions and use it to diminish the affect of the gas, as we do in Israel and the Occupied Territories, he laughed. He then explained his salary is about 300 Egyptian pounds, and one kilo of onions is three pounds.

We got back to our hotel after being at the demonstrations all through the day. During the night, we could hear the protest continuing – people screaming and police vehicles driving through the streets.

This morning we woke up to find  the streets were quiet and full of policemen, but the Facebook page of the anti-government movement was very much alive.

At around 5pm we were on a metro line on our way to the hotel, when we heard that Tahrir’s metro station was closed. We got out of the metro on Nasser Station (near the court), just in time to see the doors of the station locked behind us. Outside we found  a large crowd of people and many policemen, all of them looking much more impatient than on the previous day. Every gathering within the crowd was surrounded by policemen and whenever a large group of demonstrators started marching, the policemen shot rubber-bullets and tear gas. The atmosphere was a lot more violent and hectic.‬

We would be lying if we said we did not envy the Egyptian people: Seeing masses of people out on the streets to protest for what they believe in is something we, as Israelis, can only dream of now. And it is truly frightening to think that similar masses of Israelis will act only when have experienced the levels of oppression and rage that people are experiencing here.‬